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The Question

by Kit

Chapter 3

In previous years I'd looked forward to the approach of the long summer holidays, when I could spend time cycling or swimming with Teo and occasionally other mutual friends. When we'd not been in the mood for anything energetic, we'd just sit in the shade in his garden and sip homemade lemonade while we read our books. With Teo, there had always been something interesting to occupy us. But now Teo had gone, and the prospect of the summer break spread before me as bleakly as a desert.

On the Saturday afternoon of the week before the start of the holidays, I was sitting on my bed with my legs dangling over the side and my back against the wall. There was a book on my lap and music was playing on my small stereo system, but I wasn't reading or listening. I wasn't even thinking about anything as I stared blankly out of the window at the corrugated roof of the factory on the opposite side of our back street. When Andy came into the room I hardly noticed him, but after he'd been standing almost motionless for several seconds, I turned my head and saw him looking back at me, apparently a little nervous.

"Do you want something?" I asked, not unkindly. Over the past few weeks he'd shown considerable patience and consideration toward me, and ever since he'd said that he'd liked Teo, my attitude to him had begun to change.

"Erm, ya know I usually go to Aunt Mary's during the school holidays?" he said hesitantly. Of course I knew that, but I realised that his words were just a preamble, so my only response was to nod my head. That apparently encouraged him to continue, "Well, Aunt Mary says now she's got Angela as well as Pete and Anne, she can't look after me as well, at least while Angela's still a baby."

Although I vaguely remembered all the fuss surrounding Angela's birth a few weeks previously, and I even remembered her being brought round to our house, I'd been too concerned with my own problems to take much notice. Now that I thought about it, Andy's current situation was neither surprising nor unpredictable.

"I s'pose you'll have to stay with Gran," I said.

"Yeah, well," he said, frowning, "that's the problem."

"Why is it a problem? She looked after me during the holidays until I was twelve." I remembered how grown up I felt when, after my twelfth birthday, my parents had decided that I was old enough then to stay home on my own, especially as Gran lived so close by.

"Well, she likes you," he said, sounding a little resentful.

"She likes you, too," I pointed out, not really understanding what point he was trying to make.

"Not as much as she likes you. She always makes a fuss of you, but sometimes she hardly seems to notice me."

"She's just a bit absent-minded," I said. Then, remembering some of the times I spent with her, I added, "And I know she can be a bit odd, but she's okay, really."

"She's getting worse, now, and she can be a bit weird," he replied a little plaintively. "And we really don't get on."

I felt a little sorry for him and presumed that he'd just come to me to blow off some steam. However, when he didn't move or say anything else, I got the feeling that he was expecting something from me, so I offered my sympathy.

"Yeah. Sometimes life sucks," I said, "but we just have to put up with it. Anyway, in a couple of years, if you behave yourself, maybe Mum and Dad will decide you don't need looking after during the holidays."

"Mum said I wouldn't need Gran..." he began tentatively.

"You're only ten," I interrupted. "That's far too young to stay home on your own."

"Mum said I wouldn't be on my own if you agreed to keep your eye on me," he said, speaking so quickly that the words just seemed to tumble out of his mouth.

Aghast and unable to speak, I just stared at him. Apart from any other considerations, sharing a bedroom and bunk beds meant that privacy was at a premium, especially since I'd started puberty. During the school holidays I'd grown accustomed to having the house to myself for much of the time. Desperately, I searched for words to refuse his implied request in a way that would put an end to the matter while minimising any hurt to his feelings.

"Please. I promise I won't be any trouble. Most of the time I'll probably be out playing with my friends," he begged before I could say anything. Then, seeing that I still wasn't happy with the idea, he added, "And, and I'll do some of your chores for you until we go back to school."

With both parents working, Andy and I had plenty of household chores to do, and during the school holidays I was expected to do most of them while I was home alone. However, they didn't take up too much of my time, and I was usually allowed to schedule them to suit myself, so it wasn't too onerous. Thus the prospect of offloading some jobs onto Andy wasn't a great temptation. However, his offer did show how serious he was and how much he wanted me to agree to his request.

"I'll think about it," I said, "and see what Mum and Dad have to say."

"Pleeeeease," he begged, looking like a lost puppy.

"I said I'd think about it," I said sternly. "And acting like a baby isn't going to persuade me."

He looked at me for a few seconds then he sighed and turned to go. Just before leaving the room, he looked over his shoulder and said, "Mum says she'll need to know by tomorrow night so she can make arrangements with Gran."

"Cheeky little bastard," I muttered to myself as he disappeared from view.

Later that day, when Mum and Dad returned from shopping, I discussed it with them, and Mum seemed especially keen to get me to do it. Eventually, bearing in mind that I didn't have any other plans, that Andy would probably be out playing much of the time, and that he seemed so desperate to avoid spending the summer with Gran, I agreed. So it was that over the next few weeks I got to know my brother much better than I had before, and I found that I quite liked him.

By the time I went back to school after the long holiday, the pain of losing Teo had faded a little, but there was a constant dull ache that occasionally flared up to become something more intense. Simon's rejection of me now seemed almost insignificant, but there was still a small lingering fear that he might expose me for being 'sick'. My experiences with the two boys had taught me that my feelings for them might have been different types of love, but they had at least one thing in common; the ultimate result was pain and grief.

After much thought, I concluded that sooner or later, deliberately or accidentally, anyone I loved would probably end up deserting me. The obvious way to avoid being hurt in future was to avoid forming the sort of emotional bonds that had resulted in pain, and that is what I tried to do. One side effect of that was that it also tended to isolate me from all my other emotions. So on many occasions I felt as if I were observing my life from outside. At the time, I believed that detachment was a small price to pay for the reduced risk of pain.

Christmas came and went without leaving much of an impression on the tranquillity of my life. My parents bought me a pay-as-you-go mobile phone, partly as a reward for looking after Andy during the summer break. When I found that Andy had spent a considerable proportion of his Christmas budget on pre-paid credits for the phone, I was more touched than I would have expected. Of course, I was grateful, but it seemed ironic that I'd received such a gift at a time when there was no one I particularly wanted to phone.

Just after Christmas I began to emerge a little from my shell and decided that I needed more hobbies and interests. I wasn't really becoming more sociable, and in fact the idea of looking for new interests was initially planted in my mind by our Careers Advisor. During one of his talks he mentioned that given two candidates with equal exam grades, those responsible for university admissions would take into account the non-academic interests and abilities of the candidates. Apparently, participation in team sports was regarded as a 'plus' point, but as I had neither aptitude nor interest in such things, I looked around for alternatives.

One such alternative to team sports appeared to be the school's Outdoor Club. The club membership was made up almost exclusively of boys aged fifteen or over, although as far as I knew there was no actual rule or regulation about that. At the club meetings, which were on Wednesday lunch times, discussions were held about suggested future trips, and detailed plans were made for trips they'd already decided upon. Those discussions occasionally became surprisingly agitated, especially when some of the club members had been to those places before and had either enjoyed or hated their previous experiences.

The first meeting I attended was one of those that developed into a series of heated verbal exchanges. As a new member and an outsider, I just stood at the back of the room and looked on with mild amusement and, if truth be told, with a faint feeling of superiority.

"Are they always like this?"

The voice came from just behind me, and although it was quiet it startled me, mainly because I hadn't known that anyone was standing there. Turning my head sharply, I saw a boy who was in my year but who didn't share many of my classes. He was also one of the 'sporty crowd', so I hardly knew him, and it took a couple of seconds for me to put a name to the face. It was Frank Lewis.

"Dunno," I said curtly. "This is the first time I've been here."

For some reason, possibly because he'd startled me, I felt a little irritated and wondered if he'd noticed it in my tone. Because he'd almost never spoken to me in the past, I also wondered why he'd chosen to speak to me then.

"Me too," he responded, giving me a friendly smile, apparently not noticing the coolness of my response.

Unable to think of anything else to say, I returned my gaze to the heated debate on the other side of the room, where one fair-haired boy from the year above me was trying to convince the others that Snowdonia was not a very desirable place to visit in February. I wasn't particularly interested in the boy's arguments, but he was mildly attractive in a skinny-geeky sort of way, so I continued to watch him while I wondered if I really wanted to join this club.

"Looks like we're the only new people here," Frank observed.

That plain statement of the obvious didn't seem to require any reply, so I remained silent and didn't even glance at him. However, my lack of response didn't deter him.

"Still," he said brightly, "I s'pose that most of this year's new members would have joined last term."

"Yeah, I guess so," I replied, beginning to feel a little guilty about my unsociable behaviour toward him.

"The only reason I'm here now," he said, "is because Mum won't let me play rugger anymore, at least until Dad and me can persuade her to change her mind. Anyway, I need some way of getting out of the house at weekends. I can't stand being stuck indoors."

We'd never exchanged more than a dozen words before in our whole lives, so I was somewhat surprised by his apparent desire to chat with me. Mainly for the sake of politeness but also out of mild curiosity, I turned to face him.

"Why won't she let you play rugby?" I asked.

"Broke my collar bone in a scrum last term."

I couldn't see a sling or other any sign of injury, though I supposed doubtfully that there might be something hidden under his dark blue school blazer. Seeing the look I gave him, he raised and lowered his right shoulder then grinned.

"It's better now," he said. "Well, almost. Just a bit stiff and sore sometimes."

"So you'll be playing rugby again soon?"

"Well, I'd like to," he replied with a wry smile, "but just after I got hurt Mum saw on the news that some guy in Wales broke his neck when a scrum collapsed. She started going on about what if that had happened to me and what if I got paralysed. I told her that freak accidents can happen whatever I do, even just crossing the road."

"That's true," I commented sympathetically.

Although I didn't have much empathy with his desire to play rugby, I did follow the logic of his argument, and I knew what it felt like to have to submit to the apparently unreasonable decisions of parents. He rewarded my moral support with a beaming smile that quickly faded as he continued his tale.

"Anyway," he added, "she said that I couldn't avoid using the roads but I could avoid rugby. But I'll keep working on her."

"What about soccer instead?"

His immediate response to my suggestion was a facial expression that indicated his pity for me and for my obvious naivety.

"Soccer?" he said disdainfully. "Soccer's for wimps!"

For years he'd been just another boy around school, one of the sporty crowd to which I paid very little attention, but now his words prompted me to look at him closely for the first time. He was right, in a way, because compared to Frank, soccer players like Simon did indeed seem rather wimpy. In fact, apart from being similar in height, Frank appeared to be physically the complete opposite of Teo and Simon.

Frank's hair was jet-black and cut very short, his eyes were a deep, soft brown, and his ruddy-cheeked face was almost round. I could just about see a faint hint of fading teenage acne, something that fortunately I'd almost completely escaped. Above all, his whole body was very sturdily built and almost chunky. He was almost a head taller than I, and much more muscular. Although Frank wasn't completely unattractive, he wasn't the type who usually featured in my erotic fantasies. Indeed, probably because of his bulk and his association with the sporty crowd, I found him a little intimidating.

Then I realised that I must have been looking at him, though not quite staring at him, for several seconds and that he appeared to be a little uncomfortable under my gaze. I quickly looked away toward the front of the room, where the club's 'mentor' teacher was winding up the meeting. I had no idea what decision, if any, had been made about the proposed trip to Snowdonia. For some reason I was reluctant to turn around and face Frank, but when I eventually did so, intending to ask if he'd be attending any further meetings, he wasn't there. On finding that he'd already gone, my emotion was mainly one of relief, though there was also an inexplicable tinge of regret.

By the following Wednesday I'd almost decided not to go to any more meetings of the Outdoor Club. Although I enjoyed being out in the countryside, I didn't look forward to being out there with any of the club members I'd seen. However, bearing in mind what our Careers Advisor had told us, I couldn't think of any other school clubs that I'd prefer to join. Also, to be totally honest, I was a little curious to see if Frank would turn up again, so I went along despite my reservations.

As it turned out, Frank was already there when I arrived at the meeting. He was chatting to the fair-haired boy who'd been arguing against a trip to Snowdonia at the previous meeting. As before, I stayed at the back of the room and scanned the club notices on the board there.

"You're back again."

Frank's voice behind me took me by surprise and startled me enough to make me jump. For such a comparatively large guy he seemed to have an uncanny ability to get up close without being detected. The tone of his voice gave no indication as to whether or not he was pleased at my presence, and my response was just as neutral.

"Yeah. I didn't have anything better to do."

The fair-haired boy came over to join us and Frank introduced us, informing me that his name was Graham.

"You going to be joining us rebels, then?" Graham asked me without any further preamble.

"Rebels?" I asked with a puzzled frown.

"Yeah. Most of the others want to go camping Snowdonia at half term," Graham replied. After a brief pause he added, "Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great area, but camping there in winter is just bloody stupid, unless you like freezing your ass off in the snow."

"But don't you have to go where Mr Carter agrees to take you?" I asked, referring to the teacher who was the club's mentor.

"Well Old Cart-horse likes to be popular and usually goes along with the majority," Graham admitted. "But if it's outside of school time and we don't use club equipment then no one can stop a group of us..."

"The rebels," Frank added conspiratorially.

"...going somewhere else," Graham concluded with a grin.

"Parents might stop us," I added cautiously, though I was rapidly warming to the idea of being a 'rebel'.

"Mine won't," Graham said with certainty.

"And mine won't, either," Frank added with only a little less conviction.

"But won't it be too cold to camp out anywhere at all in February?" I asked.

I was hoping that the answer to my question would be 'yes', because although I enjoyed hiking and other outdoor pursuits, I was a little apprehensive about camping out, regardless of the weather. The main reason for my nervousness was because I'd never been camping before and I was concerned that others might notice my inexperience and mock my probable ineptitude at erecting tents, making camp fires and suchlike activities.

"Who said anything about camping?" Graham asked, giving me a superior smile. "We can find a nice cosy youth hostel, preferably not too far from an even cosier local pub. In fact, I know a couple of such places, and if you join us you get to help decide where we go."

They both looked at me expectantly, obviously waiting for my answer. To be honest, I was beginning to feel an enthusiasm that I hadn't felt for several months, so I didn't need much time to think about my answer.

"Yeah," I said, nodding my head. "I'll talk to my parents about it tonight."

"Great!" Graham responded happily. "That makes four of us so far. That's a nice critical mass, and if we can get a couple more to join us we'll have an ideal number."

With that, he went off toward a small group of lads at the front of the room, clearly intending to recruit some more 'rebels'.

So it was that at mid-term five of us ended up spending a very pleasant long weekend in a youth hostel near Scarborough. The hostel wasn't as cosy as I'd imagined or even as comfortable as I'd hoped for, but it was certainly warmer than a tent. As an added bonus, the local pub was definitely cosy enough to make the ten-minute walk worthwhile, and although the landlord wouldn't serve us alcohol, he made us welcome and provided us with excellent food. Furthermore, the local coastline was impressive and the surrounding countryside had a stark wintry beauty.

I hadn't expected to get on so well with all four of my companions, but I found myself enjoying their company. Frank and Graham were particularly friendly, although the latter's rebellious and argumentative nature sometimes wore me down a little. Frank was a much nicer person and had a much more gentle character than I'd expected. He particularly impressed me with his very positive attitude to life. Everything seemed to be an adventure for him, no task was too tough for him to attempt, and it seemed that he was prepared try anything at least once. When one of us got into difficulties, such as the time I got stuck up to my thighs in a freezing bog, he was the first to come to the rescue.

In the course of one of our rambling conversations in the pub, I found out that Frank lived not far from me but that he hadn't attended the same primary school because he was just outside the catchment area. I also discovered that he had two older sisters and a younger sister and that his family owned and ran a small bakery. It was only then that I made the mental connection between Frank Lewis and Lewis's Bakery Shop, where my mother often went to buy cakes and speciality breads.

During our stay at the youth hostel there were some things about Frank that I couldn't help noticing. For example, he was very muscular, he had a lot of chest hair for someone who was still only sixteen, and he had to shave almost every day. By contrast, the only hair below my neck was my pubic hair, and I needed to shave only about once per week. I also noticed that he was circumcised. As I'd been managing to access some porn on the internet for almost a year, I'd seen plenty of pictures of 'cut' dicks, but Frank's was the first one I'd seen in real life.

During and after the summer holidays, my interactions with Andy had increased, and it had eventually occurred to me that we were really brothers, rather than just two boys who happened to live in the same house. For example, he'd actually started initiating conversations, usually when we were in bed. Being younger, he had to go to bed before I did, and sometimes I got the impression that he'd stayed awake deliberately just so we could chat privately.

Of course, there were many other opportunities for us to talk privately, especially when we were in our room during the daytime or doing homework in the evenings, but somehow it seemed easier when were in bed. Perhaps that was because we were more relaxed and had nothing else we needed to concentrate on. Perhaps it was because, lying in our bunk beds, we couldn't see each other, so there was little chance of any confrontation. Perhaps there was a feeling of relative safety and semi-anonymity similar to that in a confessional.

Whatever the reason, most of the meaningful conversations we ever had took place when we were cosy in our beds. Usually, the topics were just everyday things like parents, school, something we'd seen on TV, and suchlike. Occasionally, though, he had something that worried him or gave him cause for concern, and at those times he appeared to switch into little-brother mode, asking questions, wanting advice, or seeking reassurance. It was at those times when I felt we were closest.

One particular night shortly after his eleventh birthday, which was just after Christmas, he began speaking even before my head had touched my pillow. His apparent eagerness to talk wasn't unexpected, because all that evening, and especially while we were doing homework, I'd noticed that he seemed distracted. In fact, guessing that he had something on his mind, I'd gone to bed a little earlier than usual.

"Ian?" he said softly, in the way he usually initiated our chats.

"Yes?" I replied gently, in the way I signalled my willingness to talk.

"D'ya know we have a practice test for the entrance exam next week?"

"Yeah. I heard you mention it to Mum and Dad a few times this last couple of weeks," I said, not trying to hide the slight amusement in my voice.

"Did you hear Mum say she expects me do at least as well as you, otherwise it will let the family down?"

"No, I didn't," I replied sympathetically. "But I'm, not surprised. That's just the way she is. It was the same for me when I was your age, and now she's going on at me about my GCSEs. She says I have to do well enough to get into the Sixth Form if want a chance to go to university. She seems to think that the more pressure she puts on us, the better we'll do."

"I don't think it'll make me do better. It just makes me nervous."

"Then just try to ignore it. You can only do your best, after all."

"But if I'm not good enough, and if I don't do as well as you, I'll be letting everyone down," he said, sounding worried and miserable.

"She's just saying that, but I bet she doesn't really believe it. She just thinks it will make you work harder," I said soothingly, trying to reassure him.

"But why does she make such a big thing of exams? My friends' parents don't make such a big fuss about it."

"I think it's because no one in her family or in Dad's family has ever been to university. She wants us to be the first," I replied. Then, only half joking, I added, "Probably so she can boast about it to our relatives and the people she works with."

"You've got a much better chance of doing that than me," he said a little sadly. Then, with a little hope in his voice, he added, "D'ya think when you go to uni she'll stop nagging me so much about studying?"

"I wouldn't count on that."

As things turned out, Andy did pass the entrance exam, but he didn't do well enough to get a scholarship that would pay for his uniform and books. However, as I'd expected, our parents praised his success without mentioning the missed scholarship. Fortunately, Mum had a promotion and Dad started a better-paid job driving long distance, so the family finances weren't strained.

Between the time that I joined the Outdoor Club and the following Easter, they organised five day-trips, usually on Sundays, and I went on three of those trips. Our group of rebels almost always went along with the rest of the club, but even then we usually clustered together a little apart from the others as we made our way through the countryside. Also, under the combined influence of Frank and Graham, our little group often branched off to take the toughest and most interesting paths up the mountainsides.

Shortly before Easter and just after my sixteenth birthday, I went to a club meeting and was immediately accosted by Frank as soon as I entered the room.

"Why haven't you put your name up yet?" he asked without any initial greeting.

"Put my name up for what?" I responded, taken aback by the abruptness of his question.

"For the Easter camping trip to the Lake District, of course," he said, apparently surprised that I'd needed to ask.

"Oh, yeah, that," I said without enthusiasm.

"What's the matter? I thought you were looking forward to the Easter trip?"

Indeed, I had been looking forward to it before I discovered that it would require me to spend a week sleeping in a tent. The more I'd thought about that prospect the less I liked it for several reasons, not the least of which was that it seemed that I would be the only one who'd never been camping before. Apart from the potential embarrassment of exposing my lack of appropriate skills, there was another factor putting me off. I'd seen the club's tents, and most of them seemed rather old and smelled a little unpleasant, Also, I wasn't confident of the ability of some of them to keep out the rain, and I had no doubt that the older, long-term club members would immediately requisition the few really good tents.

The most important factor, however, in my decision not to sign up for the trip was the fact that the they were all two- or three-person tents, and I didn't know who I'd end up sharing with. After all, I didn't really know any of the club members well enough to be comfortable sharing a cramped tent with them. Frank was the person I got on with best, but although we were quite friendly, we were not quite friends. Actually, that description could be accurately applied to all of my schoolmates, because at that time there was no one at all whom I considered to be a close friend.

Anyway, although I might have considered sharing a tent with Frank, he was such a popular person that he'd be able to share with anyone he chose. So if I went on the trip I expected to be stuck for a week in a tiny, smelly, leaky tent with an almost total stranger. Knowing my luck, I'd be trapped for six nights with someone I disliked and who would probably keep me awake with a horrific combination of snoring and flatulence. Thus I'd decided not to go on the trip, but I didn't know how I could say all that to Frank without me seeming to be a complete wimp.

"Oh, I'm not sure I can get away for the whole week," I lied.

"Why not? I thought you had the week free," he said. Then after a brief pause, during which he chewed on his lower lip, he added, "Is there a problem with your parents?"

The look of disappointment on his face took me completely by surprise, and I felt guilty about my lie, so I tried to extract myself from the uncomfortable situation without bending the truth too much.

"No, it's okay with my parents, but I have a lot planned for the holidays." He frowned and gave me a doubting look, so I decided to continue with something a little closer to the truth. "I mean, I might have found time if we were going hostelling, but I'm not really keen on camping."

Even to me that sounded pretty pathetic, and I could tell that Frank thought so, too, but he was clearly too polite to say so directly.

"Why not?" he asked. "It's fun. I love camping."

"Have you seen the club's tents?" I asked with a hint of sarcasm.

"Yeah. But I've got a nice new one. It was a present for my last birthday," he said with a grin. Then before I could think of a response he added, "It's a two-man tent. You can share with me if you want."

Over the previous few weeks Frank had already shown himself to be a kind and considerate person, so his gracious offer wasn't too surprising. Also, ever since our trip to Scarborough with the rebels, I'd had the impression that he might have been a little friendlier to me than he was to other members of the club. However, even if that impression were true, I had no idea why that might be. In any case, there was no way I could refuse without seeming churlish, or a wimp, or both.

"Okay," I said uncertainly. Then with considerably more enthusiasm I added, "Thanks very much!"

On the Saturday of the weekend after Easter, I found myself sitting next to Frank in the school minibus on our way to the Lake District. Apart from Mr Carter, who was driving, there was another teacher, Mr Edwards, and a total of thirteen boys including Frank, Graham and myself. By early afternoon on that cold, grey, but thankfully dry day, we'd arrived at Tarn Fell Farm and had pitched our tents at the campsite there. Although the signs that we'd followed from the farm entrance had indeed directed us to the 'Campsite', it seemed to me that the word was used very loosely. It certainly didn't fit into my preconceived idea of what a campsite should be.

In fact, what we found was just a large field on a slight slope, with areas of shorter grass where I presumed we were intended to pitch the tents. Perhaps these areas were supposed to have fewer rocks or to be flatter ground than the rest of the field, but if that were indeed so then the differences were too subtle for me to detect. At the higher end of the field was what appeared to be a space set aside for camp fires and at the lower end was a low brick building with three toilets and three washbasins that had only cold water taps.

While inwardly bemoaning the lack of hot water, I did note with some relief that the facilities were at least clean and apparently hygienic. I also noted a sign inside the building informing us that showers with hot water were available in a separate building just outside the farmhouse. I later discovered that the showers were about ten minutes walk from the campsite and that a meter had to be fed with coins in order to provide electricity to heat up the water. All in all, I thought to myself, it wasn't a very propitious start to the trip. However, I didn't convey that thought to any other members of the group, and especially not to Frank, who appeared to be not merely content but in fact downright happy and full of the joys of spring.

While everyone looked around for what they thought might be the best location for their tents, I just stood by and let Frank make the decision for both of us. While most of the others were still unloading tents from the minibus, Frank quickly picked out an area and began setting up his tent. Of course I assisted him, but it was clear that my assistance wasn't really needed. The area he'd chosen was slightly larger and a little set aside from the main group of camping spaces, and from the frown on Mr Carter's face I got the idea that he might have preferred that spot for himself and Mr Edwards.

The two teachers were sharing a large tent that I guessed could have easily accommodated four people. Graham had managed to get himself into the newest of the club's three-man tents, and the others had opted for two-man tents. When I went inside Frank's tent I could smell the newness of it, but although it was clearly intended for two people it wasn't as spacious as I'd hoped. I doubted that two average size people could ever be more than six inches apart even if they tried hard, and Frank had a somewhat bigger than average build.

It was getting dark by the time we were all settled in and had quickly explored our immediate surroundings, so the two teachers organised everyone to make a couple of fires and prepare food. It began to rain even before we'd finished eating, so we all beat a hasty retreat to our respective tents. With not much else to do, we undressed down to our underwear and got inside the sleeping bags. Doing that in such a cramped space and in just the faint light from Frank's torch meant that there was no way we could avoid occasional skin-to-skin contact, but neither of us acknowledged it when it happened.

For a while after we got into the sleeping bags we chatted quietly, mainly about our plans for the following day. I was beginning to regret my decision to go on the trip, and my negative feelings were not improved by the prospect that the night's rain might continue for the next few days. However, I tried not to communicate my forebodings to Frank, who was his usual upbeat self. In fact, he seemed even happier than I'd ever seen him, so I presumed that he really did enjoy camping as much as he'd said.

After a few minutes he turned off his torch, and the conversation quickly petered out. Shortly after that, I thought I could hear the faintest hint of snoring from him, but I couldn't be entirely sure because of the sound of the rain on the roof. If he was indeed snoring I certainly didn't find it at all disturbing. On the contrary, the combined sounds were rather relaxing and made me feel snug and cosy in my sleeping bag. Also, because of Frank's foresight in bringing a roll of foam padding for the floor of the tent, I was comfortable enough to drift off to sleep.

Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we got up the next day, and after a quick breakfast we headed for the high ground to begin our day's hiking. Technically, we were supposed to stay in sight of one of the teachers at all times, but our little group of four 'rebels' pushed that rule to the limit, and because we were all over sixteen, neither teacher made a big deal of it if we drifted out of sight for a few minutes. Overall, it was an enjoyable, though exhausting day, and because no one felt like cooking, we had a cheap evening meal in a local pub.

On returning to the campsite we four rebels decided to wander up to the showers, where for the first time we got a look inside. The tiny space was divided into two approximately equal areas, one for changing and one for showering. As the shower area had two showerheads, it was clearly designed for two people to use it at the same time, but with such a small space the two people would have no privacy, and avoiding physical contact would certainly not be easy. On the plus side, I was happy to note that the whole place was clean, the water was indeed hot and the little building was nice and warm, though I couldn't see any obvious source of the heat.

Not being a great fan of group showers or exposing my private bits to public view, my first reaction was to go back to the tent and wait until everyone else was finished, then return alone. However, the others were scornful of my intention, calling me a prude, so I ended up changing and showering with Frank. I went through the ordeal as quickly as possible and was already dressed in clean clothes before Frank had finished his shower. Graham and the other boy were already undressing while I was still putting on my shoes.

When we returned to the campsite, we could tell that no one had been bothered to light a fire, and clearly most people had retired for the night. As soon as we got inside our tent we were both so tired that we immediately got into our sleeping bags, and I fell asleep almost as soon as I got my head down. Sometime during the night, the temperature must have plummeted, because I woke up in the darkness feeling chilled despite my thick sleeping bag.

Then I noticed that my back was considerably warmer than the rest of my body, and it didn't take long for me to realise that Frank was snuggled up against me. Even if there had been space enough for me to move away from him, I wouldn't have done so because I was more than happy for him to be adding to the insulation on my back. When I awoke the next morning he was already up and helping to prepare breakfast, so I had no idea how long we'd slept cuddled up together or whether that closeness had been accidental.

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